The Insomnia Symptoms Associated with Suicide Risk

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

Suicide rates in the United States

According the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, there are as many as 13 suicides per 100,000 people in the United States alone, and insomnia has been linked to a greater risk for suicide.

The link between suicide risk and sleep

Although a number of studies have confirmed the link between sleep disturbance and increased suicide risk, few have fully explored why such a link may exist. A 2015 review set out to evaluate the association between insomnia symptoms and the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Serotonin dysfunction

Difficulty staying asleep has been found to significantly predict suicide. This could be down to serotonin dysfunction because the serotonergic system is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

Mood disturbances

Mood disturbances are a common daytime symptom of insomnia. Insomnia-related problems with the biological sleep-wake system can have a negative effect on the mood regulation process, which is a known suicide risk.

Worry, anxiety, and hopelessness

Those with insomnia are more likely to worry about their sleep and its effect on their health. These thoughts can perpetuate sleep anxiety and lead to the temptation of trying to force sleep, making sleep even more difficult. The associated sense of hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicidal thoughts.

Cognitive dysfunction

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to issues with problem solving, decision making, and the formation and recall of memories. These have been found to lead to risk-taking and impulsivity – both known risk factors for suicidal behaviors.

Your insomnia history

Even after controlling for anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms, one study found that the duration of insomnia symptoms was significantly associated with suicide risk, making early treatment all the more important.

The best treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia has been found to not only address insomnia symptoms, but also non-sleep related symptoms such as suicidal thoughts. It's a particularly effective treatment as the components of CBT target all of the sleep-related risk factors for suicide.

The current state of research

Unfortunately, the inconsistent definitions of insomnia and what constitutes suicide risk make it difficult to adequately evaluate and compare existing research studies. Many studies exclude those with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, further hindering progress.

Don't ignore sleep issues or suicidal thoughts

If you're having issues with sleep and/or suicidal thoughts, it's important to speak with your doctor right away. Both issues can be successfully treated and don't necessarily require medication.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.